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Project Communications Management – Part 1 – Team Leadership

Stakeholder engagement, team management, and simple common courtesy – Part 1 – Team and Leadership Communication

Leader Communicating

Introduction 

During interviews, people ask me all the time what I feel is the most vital part of project management and leadership. Hands down, I answer that while all facets of project management and leadership are important, the most important skill that a project manager or leader can possess is communication skills. 

It is said that a project manager spends 90% of their time communicating. In fact, project communication is so vital that it really encompasses two entire knowledge areas in project management; “Project Communications Management” and “Project Stakeholder Management”. The two go hand-in-hand. It is my opinion that the Project Management Institute (PMI) should reorder the Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge (or PMBOK for short) to list the chapters regarding project communication or stakeholder engagement together. 

A stakeholder is any person, internal or external to your project or organization that has an impact or perceives to have an impact on your project. This includes yourself and your team members. In this first article in a series of articles on project communications management, we will discuss leadership and project management communications internal to your team. 

Why Is It So Important?

One of the best laboratory of leadership development, the United States Army, consists of Corporals through Command Sergeant Major; the non-commissioned officer (NCO) which consists of on the ground leaders of soldiers such as Sergeants. All NCO’s must memorize, recite, and live by the Creed of the Non-Commissioned Officers.  A key part of the NCO Creed reads, “…I will communicate consistently with my Soldiers and never leave them uninformed..“. 

This is because communication is essential to organizational leadership for many reasons. First and foremost is the accomplishment of the mission (scope in project management) while improving the organization (Enterprise Environmental Factor and Organizational Process Assets updates). 

The Army defines leadership as:

“Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.” APD 6-22. Army Leadership

Fact is, without effective communication and the feeling of availability and approachability by subordinates to their leaders and managers, team effectiveness may suffer. Lack of communication equates to employees missing their purpose, feeling a lack of motivation and direction. 

Available and Approachable Leaders

Nothing worse for an employee, stakeholder or client to feel they are unable to get answers to key questions. Yes, leaders are often very busy. But if a review of employee opinions consistently show an issue where they feel that trying to reach their leader or to gain a response by a leader is like calling the local department of motor vehicles, then maybe more management is needed. 

“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people have nothing to say” Andy Stanley

If a leader cannot handle the amount of subordinates and all of their communication needs, then a new middle manager may be warranted. This is not necessarily a bad thing in a growing organization. In fact, it may be crucial for an organization to organically grow! 

As a senior leader in the Army, I continuously stressed to others that in an increasingly remote work environment, where workers may work from differing locations, it is vital to remain in contact or available for contact by subordinate leaders and workers.

I also reminded them that although we are a government agency, we do not need to act like one. In other words, as leaders we answer our phones, reply to voice mail or email messages etc. All in a timely fashion.

If you cannot reply in length, a leader must respond letting a subordinate know that they received the message, that a response will be coming shortly, and that it is perfectly OK to contact them again if they did not hear a response in a prescribed amount of time. I call this the “Assurance Method”. It assures the employee that you have not forgotten them or their needs. 

What that did was show the employee that they are important, their time is important, their needs are important to the leader, and that communication is not only welcomed, but encouraged! 

Do you as a leader ever feel like your employees will continuously call you instead of other means of communication? It is because they do not trust you will respond to them by any other means and feel they must continuously try to get a hold of you in person or by voice communication. If you implement the assurance model noted above, you may be surprised at the reduction of interrupting phone calls and personal visits you receive!

Caring Leaders Communicate Consistently

In project management, we learn that there are two ways to deliver communication. They are the push and pull methods. 

When you consistently keep your workforce in the know, you show that you trust them and care. 

With push communications, you push out an email personally to each direct report checking in on them, their progress, any impediments, how they are doing personally and professionally. This is more one-on-one or small-group communication. You may also hold a 15-30 minute meeting weekly with all of your direct reports. 

Regularly, you may publish on an intranet more project or organizational type communication. This is called pull communication. The employees can count on that at a certain time each week or month the status of the project or the organization and how it affects your group. This is being transparent of all the good that is happening, the challenges that lie ahead etc. You may also post kudos to those that went above and beyond, promotion opportunities, training opportunities etc. Pull communication is less personal, yet very vital. 

Millennials and Younger Workers Demand Transparent Communication

Younger workers are maligned in many ways by older workers. Whether you like it or not, these workers now make up the majority of our workforce. 

Millennial Workers

Younger generations were consistently informed by their teachers and parents and have grown accustomed to vast amounts of information being available at all times. They want to belong to a team- not an “us verses management” environment where information is always treated as top-secret. 

As a leader of a high performing team, transparency is key to trust and open communication. This means providing the challenges that the organization may facing. It also means congratulating them and letting them know how they have impacted the organizations mission.

They demand predictability- valuing work-life balance benefits over monetary benefits. This may be why you see educated 30 year old workers serving coffee at a barista where they enjoy coming to work! Communicating in newer methods is necessary to team success. 

If a young worker can earn a day each week to tele-work, they will value this more than many other compensation models. But this creates its own challenges of communication. You must adapt! 

Finally, never forget to pencil in time for one-on-one meetings in an informal setting when possible. This is the time to really show this younger generation that you care about their career progression, their work-life balance, any concerns that you should know about etc. Leader one on one time with subordinate

In the Army, leaders took time out of their schedule for one-on-one time sometimes referred to as “under the oak tree counseling”. This was not a time to do a mini-performance review (unless the subordinate brought it up), rather it was a time to speak to them on a more peer-to-peer level to understand their goals and aspirations- to find out what makes them tick in order to build a high performing member of your team. This builds trust and resiliency. 

Conclusion

Caring leaders build high performing teams by being approachable, transparent, and responsive. Leaders take time to respond to their subordinates and if they find the team is too large to provide this leadership, they subordinate leaders who can. 


Nathan J. Kerr, MS, PMP is the co-owner and founder of PMCertDC – Washington D.C.’s metro area premier project management boot camp provider. With our primary location in Tysons, Virginia, we hold classes throughout the Washington D.C. metro area and anywhere online.

We are a proud Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business with a huge impact on the project management world. Visit us at https://pmcertdc.com

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